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A Decade In Music: The Internet And Me

December 24th, 2009 | 3 Comments | Categories: Gig stuff · Music News · Musing on Music · New Music Strategies |

I was on the internet before my first album came out (this is what it looked like back then). In fact, much of the momentum that my first album had was to do with my good standing in the various bass-related web communities that I was a part of. As a player, teacher and journalist, I had a bit of a profile, and the web was a MUCH smaller place in the late 90s.

And that all made it so much easier to decide to do my album completely on my own. I never even entertained the idea of trying to get a ‘deal’. The economics didn’t make sense even then, and I had a hunch that the future was indie…

So I told people about it online, sold CDs through my friend Tim’s online store, and then took orders via Paypal as well. Actual download sales were a little way off back then, due to internet speeds, so I did rather well on the physical product sales front.

I got involved in a whole range of online music forums – bass playing ones, jazz theory ones, looping ones, greenbelt festival ones – having lots of fun, sharing whatever info I had about the subject and inviting people who were interested to check out my music.

I also sent copies to quite a few webzines, and got an almost unanimously favourable response. Niche ‘zines seemed to produce a lot more actual traffic and interest than magazine reviews, though the magazine ones were really useful for building credibility.

As soon as I found out about it, I put my CDs up for sale on CdBaby.com as well, and eventually had them deal with proliferating the download sales side of things, getting my music up on iTunes, eMusic, Amazon etc…

The web was also where I started booking gigs. My first ever trip to the US, in Jan 99, only happened because a friend I’d never met on a mailing list I was on took a punt on letting this mad bass player from England come and stay during NAMM. After that, it seemed like the logical way to organise everything – through Looper’s Delight I lined up some Northern California gigs with Rick Walker, and through ChurchBass I met Dan Elliott who organised a whole tour for me, despite me being a completely unknown musician from the other side of the world!

Even Myspace eventually lead to me hooking up shows in Italy, Germany and Spain.

Whenever a new platform appeared, I would explore it, sign up and get involved. Forums were an awesome way to meet other like-minded musicians and became a major discovery mechanism for my music, as well as a source of a great many lasting friendships.

I never had any great plan other than to avoid any of the mainstream channels – I flirted with the idea of shop distribution for a while, but when I saw what the unit cost was, I stepped away again – I sold a few CDs via HMV on Oxford Street but never got paid as I lost touch with the person who put them there for me. Some of my CDs are in Ray’s Jazz Store in Foyles. No idea if they’ve sold or not. I didn’t see any money from it.

No, overwhelmingly sales were either at gigs or online. And the gigs were organised online. Without the internet, I would’ve had no career at all.

It all stepped up another gear with the advent of Web 2.0 – the social web. Myspace was when it started an incredible place to connect with musicians and listeners. Again, already having something of a name helped a lot with traffic and getting the word out, but it became a source of a great many fine contacts for a short while. It was still only one part of a web presence that included my blog (which unofficially started in ‘99 when I toured with Howard Jones (read that here), and became an actual blog in 2002), all the forum activity, an emailing list, and a profile on whichever music network sites I found. Like music sales sites, most of them were balls.

Some time in the mid-00s, I made a conscious decision to stop targeting situations where I was playing to rooms full of bassists or looping geeks. Not that I wasn’t willing and happy to do those shows, just that they would no longer be my primary gig platform. I knew that my audience would drop, but I could tell the story and hopefully make the whole thing accessible to anyone who liked the music, not just those who were willing to come to bass clinics in order to hear music performed.

Social networks provided a great way to have that conversation, as they were far less siloed than the old world of forums (I don’t know many non-bassists who read or contributed to TalkBass or TheDudePit…) so people were far more likely to stumble onto my music via a random link, and then be able to find me in neutral space.

I discovered the video conversation platform Seesmic through my lovely friend JennyBee, who sent me an invite. Lo and I got on there and started playing around with putting music videos on there and chatting about them. Seesmic led us to Phreadz and we did our first ever completely online gig – from our bedroom/studio we recorded a series of songs, uploading them to the site in near-real time, while people all over the world watched, and posted videos of themselves applauding at the end! It was so much fun, and gave those people who’d only previously seen footage of us in venues a change to see how what we do works in a living room.

in 2008 we booked an entire tour of house concerts purely through Twitter. A lot of the friends who booked us were people who’d first heard us when we were on Seesmic and Phreadz, and we got to meet some really special people in person for the first time. People we knew so well but had never been within a thousand miles of before. It became our main way of booking shows.

And here we are – everything is online. From music sales to gig promo, idea generation to chatting with musician friends, it all happens online. Other than mailing out CDs and playing shows, I haven’t done anything in a non-virtual space for years. I don’t send paper mailouts or print flyers. Posters for gigs are sent to the organisers as PDFs so they can print as many as they need. Most of my sales now are digital. Lobelia even started selling her music on USB sticks at gigs when the CDs sold out…

In the last 10 years, I’ve played countless shows, sold thousands upon thousands of CDs, collaborated with amazing musicians all over the world, given away ten of thousands of downloads, written and released a novel, and met more amazing people that would’ve been remotely possible in any one lifetime before the web. My music career almost certainly wouldn’t exist without it, and my ability to tell anyone who cares to listen about all the incredible music my friends make would be severely curtailed. I’ve been put on the guest-list of sold out shows by my favourite bands, and swapped twitter messages and emails with many of my musical heroes, as well as discovering a whole load of amazing, life-defining music that I would never have found without the web.

God bless the internet. It didn’t so much save my life as make the one I live possible. Please Mr Mandelson, don’t fuck it up.

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